How does the menopause affect mental health?

Bereaved husband calls for people to raise awareness of how the menopause can affect women psychologically

Olivia Petter
Friday 12 November 2021 14:51
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In April, a woman named Linda Salmon took her life at the age of 56 after her anxiety became more severe during the pandemic.

Now, her bereaved husband, David, is calling for people to raise awareness of how the menopause can affect women’s mental health.

“The physical side of symptoms you might see, but the mental ones are hidden,” he told the BBC.

“I didn’t know there were all these other symptoms.

“I honestly thought the menopause was you got a bit warm and had a few moods and then when I saw the programme highlighting suicide it all came together.”

Here’s everything you need to know about how the menopause can affect mental health.

Why might the menopause affect mental health?

The menopause, which usually happens between 45 and 55, involves changes to hormones, with levels of oestrogen dropping.

As a result of these hormonal changes, numerous symptoms can arise, with physical ones including hot flushes, night sweats, headaches and stiffness, according to the NHS.

However, the hormonal changes might also influence your psychiatric state, with the NHS listing “mood chances, such as low mood or anxiety” among symptoms.

Several studies have also found links between depression and menopause, however, psychiatrists have pointed out that it can be rare for someone with no history of depression or anxiety to suddenly develop a severe case during menopause.

How common are those symptoms?

It’s not clear exactly how many menopausal women will experience exclusively psychological symptoms. However, the NHS states that around eight in 10 women will experience symptoms to some degree.

In addition to mood changes, women going through menopause might also encounter difficulty sleeping and reduced sex drive, both of which could have an adverse effect on mental wellbeing.

How can it be treated?

The main treatment for menopausal symptoms is hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

However, other treatments are also available for some of the symptoms.

HRT works by replacing the hormones that are missing. For some women, this may help to regulate their mood and alleviate mental health symptoms they are experiencing.

What do campaigners say about menopause and mental health?

There are numerous campaign groups in the UK calling for a better understanding of menopause.

One key area of focus is promoting the education of the public from an early age so that people have a better understanding the symptoms - and an awareness that they may be psychological.

“Mental health and menopause is not well understood,” says Diane Danzebrink, founder of non-profit Menopause Support.

“When the public thinks about menopause we tend to think of hot flushes and periods stopping as opposed to any of the many other symptoms.

“The mental health aspect can be devastating for some women. And due to the lack of information, there’s a lot of people suffering from mental health conditions without realising it’s linked to menopause.

“A lot of women describe their psychological symptoms as a loss of joy - and if you don’t understand where that comes from, all it does is compound anxiety.”

Danzebrink added that it can be damaging for those around you, too.

“Friends and family members may not understand it either, which can lead to all sorts of other problems,” she continues.

As part of its #MakeMenopauseMatter campaign, Menopause Support is calling for menopause education to be introduced into the curriculum so as to educate the nation from an early age.

They are also calling for all GPs to receive mandatory menopause training. You can sign their petition here.

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